J&K: Border residents vote without fear of shelling; raise concern over unemployment

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Samba/Jammu: Without the fear of Pakistan shelling amid a ceasefire, people living near the International Border and Line of Control in Jammu thronged the polling stations across Jammu to decide the fate of 22 candidates contesting from the constituency in the second phase of Lok Sabha polls on Friday.

According to Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Jammu and Kashmir Pandurang K Pole, a total of 158 polling stations, out of 2,416, were set up in the border areas in Jammu and Samba districts besides the Kalakote-Sunderbani segment in Rajouri district.

The Jammu parliamentary constituency recorded 67.22 per cent polling, while its border segments registered more than 70 per cent polling, till 5 pm. It is likely to maintain its history of high voter turnout as in the last parliamentary elections, the constituency registered about 74 per cent polling.

Shelling from across the border has remained a major concern for the border residents and the administration alike but this time the elections are taking place in a peaceful atmosphere owing to a renewed ceasefire between the two countries on February 25, 2021.

Last year, a BSF jawan was killed in Pakistan Rangers firing in the Ramgarh sector, the first loss of life on the Indian side in more than three years.

Despite the ceasefire, Pole said a contingency plan has been put in place to ensure no disruption in polling along the borders even if there is a ceasefire violation from across the border.

“Earlier, we were living under the looming threat of firing and shelling from across the border but the situation has changed for good ever since the ceasefire came into effect and we are carrying out our daily chores, including farming, normally,” former sarpanch Parveen Singh told PTI after casting his vote in a polling station in the last Indian village in Suchetgarh sector on the outskirts of Jammu.

Singh said they are happy as almost all government schemes reached the border areas, ensuring the upliftment of the people and the development of the region.

However, former Panch Sham Singh was critical of the government and said the promised five marlas of land for border residents to ensure a roof on their heads during cross-border shelling had remained a distant dream.

“We have suffered a big loss due to abrogation of Article 370 (a constitution provision that provided special status to J&K) in August 2019,” he said, criticising the government for its alleged failure to generate employment opportunities for the youth, introducing Agnipath scheme and delaying assembly elections.

“We want assembly elections so that the popular government is restored. People are for change,” he said.

Palvi Chib, a first-time voter, said she wanted the government to focus on employment generation.

“I am happy to have exercised my democratic right and I am looking forward to a government which can address people’s issues and generate enough employment opportunities,” Chib said.

Rajni Devi, a resident of village Satrian in the R S Pura sector, said she would like Prime Minister Narendra Modi to return to power as there is a lot of improvement in the lives of the border residents due to the ceasefire and developmental activities.

“We are farmers and want everlasting peace between the two countries so that we can tend to our land on the zero line without any fear. Peace means opportunities and education for our children,” another voter, Swarn Lal said.

Long queues of voters were seen outside polling stations in the Suchetgarh assembly segment, where 41.85 per cent of voters had exercised their franchise till 1 pm.

The enthusiasm among the voters was also visible in the Ramgarh sector of the Samba district, where the voters also talked about the growing menace of drug abuse among youngsters and inflation.

“Unemployment is on the rise as a result of which the youth are falling prey to narcotic smugglers. Drug abuse is on the rise and there is a need to engage the youth in positive activities by generating employment for them,” Kamlesh Kumar, a middle-aged voter said.

She also expressed concern over inflation and demanded that the government should focus on lowering the prices of domestic gas and essential and daily use items to provide relief to the people.

“We are happy that there is peace on the borders and people, who are mostly farmers, are attending their land. Earlier, we used to spend days mostly outside our homes due to Pakistani shelling,” she said after casting her vote at Sanoori village of Ramgarh sector.

She demanded the closure of wine shops and a major drive against drug abuse to save the young generation.

Officials said various polling stations were set up in buildings having underground bunkers including Nanga, Abdal, Sarthia Kalan, Rajpur, Chalyari and adjoining areas.

“The government has sanctioned and constructed bunkers for our safety. They should also provide us five marlas land at safer places and arrange special recruitment drive which had not taken place for a long period,” Kuldeep Singh said.

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